Bush avoids big-name pardons, for now

An award-winning rapper and a Detroit policeman facing cocaine and money laundering charges are among the first to have won a pardon or have prison sentences commuted by George Bush in relatively low-key, traditional end-of-reign moves.

The two commutations and 14 pardons were the first acts of clemency, granted on Monday, were the first by the outgoing US president since March. Bush, following his father’s lead, has been much less inclined than his predecessors to exercise this constitutional right.

After almost eight years in the White House, Bush has only provided 171 pardons and eight commutations, fewer than half those granted by Bill Clinton or Ronald Reagan. Bush has denied 7 825 pardon and commutation petitions while in office, the Office of the Pardon Attorney reported on its website.

The case was closed for disgraced Olympic gold medalist Marion Jones to receive a pardon, a senior administration official said on condition of anonymity.

The sprint star charged for steroid use “submitted a petition to have her sentence commuted but it was closed without action when she was released from prison earlier this year”, the official said.

Another high-profile individual hoping for a Bush pardon is media tycoon Conrad Black, currently serving a six-and-a-half-year jail term for fraud and obstruction of justice.

Black, who is often compared to “Citizen Kane” for his lavish lifestyle, “applied for a commutation of sentence on November 10 and his application is pending”, the official added.

He said applications were also pending for John Walker Lindh, the so-called “American Taliban”, as well as for Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Louisiana’s former Democratic governor Edwin Washington Edwards, both implicated in corruption and bribe cases.

Lindh was captured in Afghanistan and sentenced to 20 years of prison after pleading guilty to bearing arms with the Taliban.

In July, Bush commuted the prison term for I Lewis “Scooter” Libby, a former White House aide who received a 30-month prison term for perjury, obstruction of justice and making false statements to investigators in a CIA leak case. A pardon has not yet been ruled out.

Bush’s latest petitions are unlikely to raise controversy. Those pardoned had been convicted on narcotics, environmental, animal endangerment, tax and fraud offenses, according to a list provided by the Department of Justice.

The best-known beneficiary was Grammy Award-winning rapper John Edward Forte, sentenced in 2001 to 14 years in prison for cocaine possession. A Detroit policeman charged for money laundering and cocaine distribution also saw his 360-month sentence commuted. Both men are set to leave prison in December.

“The president carefully considered recommendations for pardons and commutations on a case-by-case basis and made his determinations,” White House spokesperson Carlton Carroll said Monday.

“He will continue to review clemency requests,” Carroll added, leaving the door open to further clemency measures in the two months Bush has left in office.

The end of the Bush presidency has fueled speculation that the 43rd US president could preemptively grant clemency for participants of secret and highly controversial interrogations of terror suspects in order to protect them against future torture charges.

Granting pardons and commutations is a risky game for Bush, who has assured a smooth transition to his successor Barack Obama.

Former president Gerald Ford caused much controversy when he pardoned Richard Nixon, who was forced to resign by the Watergate scandal. So did Jimmy Carter when he pardoned Vietnam War draft evaders.

In his last hours as president, Bill Clinton issued a flurry of petitions, controversial in both their number and beneficiaries, prompting a federal investigation.

According to the Office of the Pardon Attorney, Clinton granted 396 pardons — 218 of which were issued in the last months of his presidency — and 40 commutations. Ronald Reagan provided 393 pardons and 13 commutations.

“People are always trying to make their case” for clemency measures, Bush administration officials said.

Despite the hundreds of requests said to be pending at the Department of Justice, Bush will not wait until “the last day” to grant clemency, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino indicated last week. – AFP

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